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Chapter 14

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Spike ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It had taken Willow a little over an hour to pack everything she wanted to take with her from the dorm room she had shared with Tara. Spike had been a little wary of going there, but had been pleasantly surprised when there were no hysterics. A single tear had escaped as she shoved the pillows from their bed into a garbage bag, and there were a few sighs to go along with her pained expression, but it was nothing like what he had feared would happen when the redhead was confronted with her old room.

Now the blonde vampire found himself weighed down with his every material possession as he followed Willow through her front door. The witch was carrying as many of her bags from their trip as she could manage. Gunn and Angel had followed them from the dorm and were loading down their arms with boxes and bags from her room as Willow unlocked her door.

Willow set her things down just inside the door and began moving from room to room casting spells on the windows to ensure that no sunlight coming in would harm her houseguests. Spike moved his bags into the living room before going back and gathering Willow’s things to take up to her room. When he saw the other two men moving toward the house, he stopped to watch.

Gunn walked through the front door. "What are you lookin’ at?"

Spike just grinned and tipped his head to the side as Angel attempted to step over the threshold. The grin was shattered by a shout of laughter when Angel slammed into the invisible barrier of Willow’s open door.

"Spike," Willow swatted his arm as she moved past him. "Come in, Angel."

Spike snickered as he moved up the stairs, only to groan when he realized the others were following him. He really did not want to deal with his sire’s overprotective impulses and the lecture that he knew was coming, but he was unable to see a way around it. He knew there was no way in hell he would ever hurt his Red, and she obviously trusted him with her life, but Angel and Gunn were bound to close their eyes to that reasoning.

Spike led the way into Willow’s parents’ old room. Willow had taken it over the month before, repainting and refurnishing it in the way she wanted. A king sized mahogany sleigh bed dominated the center of the room, its thick mattress beckoned to Spike, and he fought the urge to sink into the mound of pillows. Instead, he placed the bags he carried on the bed and began putting the clothing in the drawers of one of the dressers and hanging her dresses and skirts in the closet.

"What are you doing?" Angel’s voice was hard as he spoke from just inside the door.

"Putting Red’s clothes away, you ponce. What does it look like I’m doing?"

Gunn set the boxes he had hauled up the stairs down and glanced at Angel. "Can’t I just stake him?"

"Not yet, Gunn." The corner of Angel’s mouth quirked up. "I want to know what’s really going on between him and Willow."

"Nothing," Spike sighed and turned to face his sire after hanging the last of the garment bags in the closet. "I’m in love with the girl, but the breakup between her and her witch is too fresh for her to love me back."

"That’s bull and you *know* it, Spike." The barest shadow of ridges slid over Angel’s face as he moved further into the room. "I want to know what you’re really up to, what you’re trying to use that innocent girl for, now boy."

"Don’t," Spike’s voice was a deep growl as he instinctively slid into an attack stance. "Don’t go talkin’ like we’re mates. We haven’t known each other for eighty years.

"You may have sired me, but I’m no one’s boy. *I* am William the Bloody. *I* am the Slayer of Slayers! *I AM SPIKE!*"

"Spike?" Willow’s soft voice slid over Spike’s nerves, smoothing the frazzled ends and eased the tension from his body.

"Yes, luv?"

"Thanks for putting everything away. You didn’t have to do that."

Spike shrugged. "You were busy."

Willow turned her attention to the other two men in the room. "Angel? Gunn?"

Two sets of eyebrows raised in question.

"If you’re going to threaten and belittle Spike, and generally act like immature idiots, then you can just leave. I don’t know Gunn at all, and I’ve never been all that comfortable around you, Angel. Spike’s the only person in this room that I trust."

"Red-" Gunn got no further than that before Willow interrupted him.

"I’m Willow to you. Only Spike calls me Red."

Gunn sighed. "Willow, then. How can you say you trust this vampire more than you trust me or Angel?"

"For one, he doesn’t treat me like an invalid because I’m not a vampire or a slayer or a man. He has always just been Spike. Even when he first came to Sunnydale, he was pretty much on the level with the whole killing off one of the slayer’s friends and using their bones to bash her head in thing. You pretty much always know where he’s coming from, even when he’s being a jerk to make himself feel better."

"You just said yourself that he’s tried to kill you!" Gunn clearly wasn’t getting the point.

"He’s not the only person in the room who’s threatened to take a bite out of me." Willow let her eyes stray to the dark, now brooding, vampire before turning back to Spike. "I’ve got popcorn in the microwave and ‘The Lost Boys’ is coming on cable in about five minutes."

"Movie time it is then." Spike rubbed his hands together before slinging an arm over Willow’s shoulders and leading her from the room.

 

Chapter 15

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Willow ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Willow slid into wakefulness with a sigh of contentment on her lips. The now familiar weight of Spike’s muscled arm lay across her back and held her in place. She had come to lie directly atop the vampire while she slept, not sure if she had moved herself to that position or if she had been put there. Her head rested just under Spike’s chin, her cheek pressed to his well-defined chest. The tight muscles of his stomach and the slim line of his hips served as her mattress. Willow stretch her boxer clad legs and smiled as they rubbed against Spike’s jean covered ones. The soft, downy duvet of comfort settled over Willow as she snuggled into the cool skin of her vampire pillow.

*Why do I feel this way?* The thought wormed past the layers of peace in which Willow had wrapped herself. *It took a LOT longer for me to be this at ease around either Oz or Tara.*

She managed to untangle herself from Spike’s sleep-heavy body and slid from the bed. After all, it was past eleven in the morning, and there was no point in lying about in bed when no hope of falling back asleep was in sight. The thoughts continued to plague her as she moved around the room gathering clothes to wear after her shower.

How could she feel like this around Spike so soon when it had taken months for her to reach the same point with *both* Oz and Tara? It hadn’t even been two full weeks since Tara left her, and Willow no longer felt a stabbing pain in her heart when she thought of the other witch. Were the bittersweet feelings and dull ache a sign that she was moving on, or was she in danger of Spike being her rebound guy? Was she using him without meaning to? She had come to believe his words of love, and now worried that she was doing him damage by taking comfort in his arms, even if it never became anything more than snuggling.

Willow found her comb and slipped into the bathroom attached to her new bedroom. Turning the faucet on in the shower, she gathered the towels she would need and arranged her clothes as she waited for the water to heat.

Maybe she *should* ask Spike to leave. If she didn’t love him, she wasn’t going to be having any kind of sex with him. She just didn’t work that way. The thought of sending him away, of never feeling his arms wrapped around her as she slept or the way he would throw an arm over her shoulder as they walked in an unspoken sign of possession, made her chest ache. He would still be around, there was no doubt of that, but civility would be asking too much of him, and friendship would be completely out of the question.

Deciding that she wouldn’t be asking him to go away any time soon, and telling her brain to shut up before it made her question herself any longer, Willow shed her night clothes and stepped under the spray of the shower. It only took a moment for the steam to clear the morning fog from her mind, and she hummed softly as she began wetting her hair. The hum turned into a lilting song as she rinsed out the shampoo and smoothed the conditioner through the thick waves, happy that her hair had developed some body as she aged.

"Over in Killarney, many years ago," Willow left the conditioner to soak into her hair and turner her attention to lathering her skin with the honey and lavender scented shower gel as she sang the song her grandmother had taught her before she died. "Me mother sang this song to me in tones so sweet and low."

"Just a simple little ditty, in her good old Irish way," she lapsed back into humming as she slid the soapy sponge over her stomach.

*What would being with Spike be like?* The question came unbidden, and Willow groaned as she realized she was thinking unsettling thoughts while trying to relax and enjoy her shower. She was certain the he would love her. If the man could spend over one hundred years doting on an insane vampiress who treated him worse than dirt and took every opportunity to cheat on him, then he could certainly spend just as long- or longer- loving Willow, who was far more loyal than that. The thought that, should she fall in love with the impulsive blonde vampire, she would eventually be turned was too big to focus on before she had eaten breakfast, so it was ignored.

The image of Spike’s pale, muscled chest floated into mind as Willow’s sponge caressed the fairy inked into her hip. The memory of her waking soon chased his chest from her thoughts with the image of Spike’s toned arms. Some trick of timing brought an imagining of his long, sure hands to the fore just as the soapy sponge slid over the cinnamon curls at the apex of her thighs.

A shaky gasp escaped her in surprise. Since becoming physical with Tara, Willow had never felt the need to pleasure herself. The blonde witch was far from shy within the confines of their room, and had always taken great delight in bringing Willow to orgasm as many times as the redhead could handle.

Willow was so lost in thoughts of Spike’s pale, sure hands that the sponge went unnoticed as it fell to the bottom of the tub. She leaned against the wall and moved her left hand down to slide over her thick folds. The image of Spike’s smirking face stayed with Willow as she gave her clit a tentative flick.

A loud knock on the door snapped her out of her fantasy. "Just a second!"

"Watcher called, luv." Spike’s voice strained to be heard through the door and over the din of the shower. "Whole bloody lot of ‘em will be here soon."

"What’s wrong?" Willow ducked back under the spray and rinsed her hair, the concern for her friends doing away with the erotic haze.

"Somethin’ ‘bout the shop being attacked. Said everyone was fine, but we need to have a sit down."

"I’m coming." Running a towel over her body, Willow was dressed and out of the bathroom in less than five minutes. Using the fluffy towel to wring out her hair, she moved back into her room to find a shirtless Spike just finishing making the bed.

"Need help, luv?" It took Willow a heartbeat to realize that it was Spike, not herself, who had spoken.

Willow drew a wide-toothed comb through her hair as her eyes slid over the half nude body in front of her. "With what?"

Spike turned to face her as he slid a tight Sex Pistols shirt that she had bought him on their trip over his head. The movement gave Willow a perfect view of his chest and abdomen as he stretched his arms over his head and arched his back. The top button of his jeans was open, and Willow blushed a light pink when she caught her eyes straying to the flesh it revealed.

"Used to do Dru’s hair."

His voice startled her, and she found herself blinking twice. "I can handle it."

"Oh," Spike looked away.

"You should button your jeans."

Spike chuckled softly. "Used to sleep in nothin’ till you started sharing my bed."

"Technically," Willow fought the blush that threatened to slide over her skin in a crimson wave. "You’re sharing *my* bed."

Spike only nodded as he fastened his jeans. Hands patted his pockets before he sighed and stuffed his fists in them. Wriggling toes drew Willow’s attention to his pale, bare feet.

Bringing the comb up to her hair, Willow caught Spike watching its movement. "Do you *want* to mess with my hair?"

Spike’s only answer was to lift one shoulder in a shrug, and Willow had her answer. Xander and Jessie used to give her that same motion when they were trying to say yes without looking too much like a ‘sissy’ in front of anyone.

"Well, if you want too, you can."

The smile he fixed on her was more bright and open than anything she had ever seen on him. It caused that familiar ache to return to the pit of her stomach and a soft sigh to catch on her lips.

*Oh, Goddess... I want Spike. But, do I LOVE him?*

 

Chapter 16

~~~~~~~~~~~ Spike ~~~~~~~~~

Willow insisted on making sure Angel was awake before she would let Spike touch her hair, so he leaned against the wall beside her door and watched as she moved down the hall. Raising a delicate hand, she rapped so lightly on the wood of the door that Spike doubted even the elder vampire’s advanced hearing was able to pick it out from the usual sounds of a house in mid afternoon. Willow waited a moment before knocking a second time, slightly more audibly.

"Angel?" Her voice was gentle, and Spike found himself growling. Why should his broody ponce of a sire get to hear the caring softness of her voice as he woke?

Stomping down the carpeted floor of the hall was made considerably less noisy and dramatic - and, therefore, severely lacking - by the absence of his usual heavy boots. Bare feet just didn’t hold any menace. Deciding to ignore that, as no one but Red could see him at the moment, Spike stopped at her side. Moving her gently to the left, he hammered on the door with the side of his fist.

"Oi! Peaches!" Another round of pounding followed his shout. "Get the bloody sodding *hell* out of bed!"

"What do you *want*, Spike?" Angel, shirtless and sleep-eyed, answered the door before Spike finished speaking.

"Gang’s on its way." Spike lit another cigarette, being sure to blow his exhalation into the other vampire’s face. "If I have to put up with the slayer, so do you."

Angel looked past Spike to Willow. "I’ll be down in five."

A deep growl slid from Spike as Angel shut the door in his face. He knew that Angel had the memories of their time terrorizing Europe together, but that’s where any sirely feelings seemed to end. Why couldn’t the older vampire just treat him with some kind of respect? He knew Angel would never show him the affection of a true sire to his childe, but to be held in no higher regard than a roach crushed under a boot was nearly more than Spike could stand.

"Spike?" Willow’s voice held understanding as it broke through the haze of his anger.

Spike sighed. "Yeah, luv?"

There was something in the girl’s eyes that spoke of other things as she replied. "Do you think you can make my hair half as pretty as you made Dru’s?"

Spike grinned, the pain of abandonment diminishing under Willow’s soft smile and uncertain eyes. "Your hair is as pretty now, without doing anything special to it, as Dru’s ever was after an hour of primping. *I* can make you glorious."

Willow giggled and let Spike throw his arm around her shoulder in a now familiar gesture as they moved back down the hall.

Spike’s sensitive ears picked up on Willow’s soft sigh as she moved, if only slightly, closer to his side. A moment later, he found himself smiling as his arm wound its way around her waist as they crossed the threshold of the bedroom they shared. Willow never pulled away, and he found himself wondering if it meant something more than friendship on Willow’s part.

******

Spike smirked at Angel and Gunn over Willow’s head as he followed her into the living room. He had taken his time styling his witch’s hair, loving its soft raspberry scent and the heavy waves as they slid through his fingers. The style was old, picked to remind his sire of their days together in England and France before the curse and subsequent abandonment.

Angelus had always appreciated the piles of braids and curls that called attention to swan like necks and the shoulders that ball gowns habitually left bare. There had been many nights that a victim was chosen simply for wearing her hair in such a fashion. Spike had never been able to tell what, exactly, Angelus saw in the style, as most of the hair fashions of the day had left neck and shoulders bare.

Spike took in the stunned, glazed look in Angel’s eyes. There was a small twinge of jealousy and the urge to cover Willow’s tank top before he remembered that she wanted nothing to do with the dark vampire. He led her into the kitchen with a hand on the small of her back, grinning openly as Angel followed her with his eyes. Sometimes being evil was just plain... Neat!

"Do I even want to know what that was all about?" Willow opened the refrigerator door, sighed, and closed it again. "Forgot. Haven’t gone to the store yet."

"Told the watcher to bring something anyway."

"Then why are we sitting in here?"

Spike filled a glass with ice and water. "Somethin’ to drink."

"And you wanted to show off to Angel without having to stay around him."

"That too."

Willow’s response was cut off by Xander’s shout of greeting.

"Have no fear; the Xan-man is here!" Xander, followed by Gunn, entered the kitchen carrying three paper bags of groceries each.

A disheveled and dirty Anya brought up the rear. "Tell me again why we had to stop for food that we will not be eating? I’ve been scared out of my mind; covered in half our inventory of various powders that should never be mixed, and are really beginning to itch; and lost many many dollars. Can’t I just go home?"

"Anya?" Spike turned his attention from the bags Xander and Gunn were unpacking to watch as Willow wrapped an arm around the ex-demon’s waist to lead her from the kitchen. "What happened?"

"I’m not supposed to talk about it," Anya had to pause as she wiped at her eyes. "Not until Giles and Buffy get here."

Willow wrapped her arms around the other woman and held her tightly. "How about a nice hot soak in the tub? Getting clean will help you feel better, I’m sure."

"I think I want to be close to people- close to Xander, even if he *is* being an insensitive jerk- more than I want to be clean."

"A shower, then? It would be better than sitting around waiting for everyone to get here. I’ll let you use whatever nice stuff you want."

Spike grinned at the cajoling Willow was doing, knowing that Anya would never be able to pass up the opportunity to go through another woman’s things.

"Apple?" Anya looked at Willow from under long lashes.

"Sure," Willow’s voice floated back to Spike from the hall where she was leading Anya up to her room.

"Get anything for breakfast?" Spike rummaged through a bag that sat waiting to be emptied.

"Buffy is stopping by Willy’s place to talk to him and get some blood for you and Dead Boy."

Spike shook his head and snorted in contempt. Was this whelp of a moron really so blinded by his feelings toward vampires that he couldn’t see that he and the Pouf were there to help? Spike could understand the ill will and general hate directed at Angel- the older vampire *was* a monumental jerk of a gel-haired nancy boy, after all– but didn’t see why the animosity extended to himself.

Sure, Spike had terrorized, tortured, or simply attempted to kill every one of the Sunnydale crew at one time or another, but it hadn’t started out as anything personal. He was a master vampire, after all, and that title came with certain expectations and responsibilities, among which was attempting to kill slayers.

The fact that there were family and friends involved with this slayer had complicated things a bit, and he blamed these complications for his initial failures in beating her. The addition of his very *sire* in her little group was what really did him in. He fully believed that he, the student, had surpassed his sire, the teacher, but it didn’t change the fact that the older vampire had been his mentor and main influence for sixty years. Even though he had learned from many others over the years of their separation from one another and had killed a slayer during that time apart, Angel knew enough about him to throw some major wrenches into his best laid plans.

Spike shook the unwelcome thoughts from his mind, disappointed to find that the melancholy refused to be ejected along with them. He sighed, deciding that he would go and find his witch. After all, what better way to take his mind off of his abject humiliation at the hands of the slayer and her pet vampire than to drown the feelings in the all-consuming pleasure of being in the company of Willow?

"Spike?" The occupier of his thoughts stepped lightly down the stairs and moved into the kitchen as she spoke. "Did they bring anything for you?"

"Slayer’s getting it."

"Ah," Willow gave an exaggerated nod. "Time to beat up on Willy."

Spike grinned as Willow put away the last of the food, quickly snatching the eggs and cheese from her hands. The girl loved plain cheese omelets, and today was as good a day as any to make her one. Besides, he could hear Angel moving toward the kitchen with the Fred girl- probably annoyed at being ignored- and wanted him to see what he was like with Willow. Maybe Angel would eventually leave him alone if he could prove that his feelings for Willow were real through actions.

Willow filled the tea kettle and put it on to warm up as Spike beat the eggs into submission and added the bits of cheese. Without getting in each other’s way, they moved about the kitchen putting on coffee and making toast that was slathered with generous gobs of strawberry jam. Spike was sitting a large omelet with two slices of toast with jam in front of Willow when the front door was unceremoniously shoved open to admit a huffing slayer and a grimy watcher.

"Well, aside from finding enough blood to keep Angel and Spike healthy for a week, that was a monumental waste of time." Giles slumped into a chair and smiled his thanks as Willow poured him a cup of tea. Sliding his glasses from his face, he huffed and shrugged before putting them back on his nose, cracked lens and all. "I do wish I had something more than cream."

Willow hopped up from the table and moved to the cabinet that sat against a wall. "Scotch? Rum?"

"Scotch for me, please." Anya, scrubbed pink and wearing one of Willow’s more simple sundresses, walked into the room and joined them at the table. Grinning, she accepted the cup of tea from Spike and added a little more scotch to hers than Giles had added to his own.

"Um, An-" Xander was cut off before he could finish his thought.

"Shut up, Xander Harris." Anya sipped her tea and settled back into her chair. "I’m not happy with you."

Spike, having put up with his curiosity needling him since Anya had walked through the door, just had to ask. "What did you do?"

"I’ll tell you what he did," her cup clacked loudly as it hit its saucer on the table. "He took forever to get to the shop after I called him, then he insisted that he not hold me like I needed him to, and then he insisted that we go to the store and come here when all I wanted to do was go home!"

"I had to find someone to fill in for me at the site, and then the paramedics had to check you out." Xander leaned into his upset girlfriend from his spot beside her at the table. "I wanted to make sure you were okay before I hugged you. If you were hurt badly and I hugged you as tightly as I wanted, I could have broken something."

Anya’s face softened at Xander’s words, and Spike found himself smiling slightly. He liked the demon girl, getting many hours of glee from her frankness and the embarrassment it tended to cause others. Xander, even though he had always been a moron, seemed to be good for the girl, and Spike didn’t want to see her get hurt.

Anya sniffed. "What about stopping at the store?"

Xander leaned down to rummage through a bag that he had set by the chair instead of unpacking it. Pulling a silver bag from inside, he handed it to Anya. "Hershey’s chocolate. The cookies and cream kind."

Kissing her boyfriend soundly, Anya tore into the bag. "Comfort food. I’ll forgive you; but only if you give me lots of orgasms later."

Xander blushed, but answered anyway. "Was planning on it."

"And on that note," Buffy stood from her chair and drew attention away from the lovers’ conversation at the far end of the table. "The news is calling it a ‘freak, localized earthquake’ that affected only the Magic Box and the empty storefront beside it."

"Yes, even in broad daylight, this town in amazingly blind." Giles refilled his cup with both tea and scotch before eyeing Willow’s now empty plate. "You made omelets?"

Willow giggled. "Goddess, no. You know I can’t cook. Spike made one for me."

"Spike?" Xander eyed the blonde.

"I’ve been alive for over 140 years. I’ve learned quite a bit over that time."

"Back to the important things," Willow eyed Spike, Xander, and Giles as if they had lost their minds. "It *was* Gonolundo, right?"

"Of course," Anya shrugged. "And he was looking for you."

 

Chapter 17

~~~~~~~~~~ Willow ~~~~~~~~~

"Why did he go to the Magic Box?" Willow had corralled everyone into the living room and was pacing the floor.

"Scent? Feel?" Angel shrugged. "You smell and feel different then you did the last time I saw you."

"I do?"

Spike beat his sire to answer, eyeing the older vampire as he spoke. "More powerful, like you know how to handle your magic."

"You can smell that?"

"And feel it, yeah." Spike gave her a crooked smile and tipped his head to the side. "Sort of overpowering if you work some major mojo and a demon’s not used to being around it."

Willow stood, nonplused, besides the coffee table until her brain started in with its usual jabbering thoughts, and she was forced to give voice to them. "But what was the point of him going to the shop when I’m here?

"If he was there just before lunch, then he’s not sun phobic, so he could come after me here. If he were going on feel or smell, that would have led him here as well, right?" Willow had resumed her pacing and didn’t wait for an answer. "I mean, I was only there for half an hour last night. We’ve been *here* for nearly ten.

"The only reason we were even at the shop in the first place was because of the fight with those vampires..." Willow trailed off in thought. "The blood!"

Spike, who had just taken his first sip of the blood from Willy’s wiped his mouth and eyed the mug warily. "What’s wrong with the blood?"

"Not *your* blood! Mine!"

"Nothin’ wrong with your blood, luv."

Xander spoke from where he sat on the couch. "How would *you* know?"

"Could smell if something was wrong with it."

All eyes turned to Angel, though Buffy voiced the question. "Can you?"

"Smell if someone’s blood isn’t right?" He shrugged and drank half his mug of blood in one gulp. "Sure."

"Oh." Buffy paused and seemed to process the information. "Ick."

"What about your blood, Willow?" Gunn had found a seat leaning against the entertainment center.

"Maybe Gonuludo sent those vampires because he knew they could make me bleed, not because he wanted them to kill me. He just needed a way to track me. If Spike and Angel can sense power, he might be able to as well. Could my blood be different than anyone else’s?"

"Of course." Giles had entered ‘watcher mode’, and was leaning forward as he spoke. "Aside from normal human differences, you also have your magic."

"Maybe he went to the place where the scent or feel of my blood was strongest."

"But why didn’t he come here?" Xander settled Anya, who was well over half way through her bag of chocolate, more securely on his lap. "You’ve been here for hours with that cut on your stomach."

Willow shrugged, "Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it isn’t the blood. I’m just throwing out ideas here. Let me know if you come up with anything."

"Maybe he can’t find it because you cleaned and wrapped it." Fred’s soft voice floated from her seat in one of the overstuffed chairs Willow had moved into the house. "Could the antiseptic and bandaging be preventing him from tracking properly?"

"That could be entirely possible." Polishing the glasses that Willow had repaired, Giles shook his head. "He could also be assuming that his attack on the shop has alerted us to his ability to operate during the day and doesn’t want to attempt another wave until he has some backup."

"So... what?" Xander fidgeted with the hem of the dress Anya was wearing. "He’s waiting for sunset and a few more drops of blood?"

"I really don’t believe that Willow bleeding would be necessary. He just has to be able to find her and have enough demons to distract us and use as shields while he goes for her. Both of which he would gain by using vampires."

Buffy surged to her feet, grasped Willow’s arm, and began tugging her across the room. "C’mon, we only have a few hours until dark to get you packed and out of town."

"Out of town?" Willow jerked her hand back. "Buffy, I’m not going anywhere."

"Yes. You are. You haven’t seen this thing up close and in the stone, Wills. I just don’t want you to get hurt, and he’s out to get you."

"And how, exactly, are you planning on keeping me safe when that thing can track me?"

Spike moved from the couch and wrapped an arm around her waist. "I’ll go with you. We can head east this time and see where we end up."

Angel was suddenly on his feet, towering above the other vampire. "No. Fred and Wesley will go with her. We’ll need you here to fight."

"And I’m just supposed to trust that the brain and her airy-fairy pet nancy-boy are going to keep my witch safe?" Spike snorted. "Not bleedin’ likely, mate."

Willow ignored the commotion Spike’s words caused- both internally and among the group- and pushed her way between the glaring vampires. "First of all, I am perfectly capable of keeping myself alive. I mean, hello. Who’s lived on the hellmouth her entire life? Second, I *can* and *will* go anywhere I wish with Spike. And third," Willow faced Buffy, Xander, and Giles. "Wasn’t it *you* who had a meeting to discuss my abilities and power?"

When the three offenders could only blush lightly and look away, Willow nodded. "Magic is the only thing that’s ever been able to weaken this thing. I’m our best chance at that, and you *know* it. Gonulundo was only able to defeat the last wizard because he made it to sunset when his vampire lackeys attacked.

"My guess is that they didn’t begin using magic on him until it was a last resort. So, that wouldn’t have been until well into the afternoon or early evening. If I can somehow keep his vampires from ripping me into bite-sized pieces, I think I can beat him. Of course, the best way to do that would be to get to him just after daybreak where he wouldn’t get any help."

"Willow," Gunn stood from his seat and looked at the research and maps spread over the coffee table and spilling onto the floor. "We need to figure out what and where this thing’s weaknesses are before you go gunning to take him out."

Willow nodded. "That’s why I’ll be going on patrol with Buffy tonight."

Spike’s arms were wrapped around her waist pulling her back against his stomach. "Bollocks to that. You’re not going."

Chapter 18

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Spike ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Wanna fill me in on this brilliant plan one more time, luv?" Spike followed closely behind a stomping Willow, knowing that the other demon wouldn’t have a problem finding her if she went thrashing about like that all evening. Unlike his demon’s face, he was unable to keep his fangs retracted in his fear, and he growled as elongated teeth sliced through a fourth cigarette, severing the filter from the tobacco that he so desperately needed. Cursing the cigarette and calling into question its paternal lineage, he shoved his hand back into the coat pocket for another.

Willow kept giving him dirty looks and picking up his discarded cigarette halves to throw in the next trash can they passed, but Spike didn’t see where he was to blame for this at all. If she had just agreed to leave with him, they would be on their way to Vegas. He had even been willing to compromise and offered to hide her somewhere the demon wouldn’t suspect and have Gunn back him up protecting her as the rest of the gang took to the streets. Instead, he found himself trailing behind his idiot of a sire as they traipsed through the park in search of a huge stone demon that could only be hurt by magic and who wanted to do something extremely unpleasant to the woman he loved, if not just outright kill her.

Said woman was moving with the kind single-minded determination that he missed from his pre-chip days. Her chin tilted up in a slightly haughty gesture. Her steps, though harsh and angry, were given with an air of authority that Spike recognized as the same air she had about her when her Resolve Face-- he always thought of it capitalized-- was on full display, and she would hear no arguments. Her stride was made three inches longer by the thick-soled boots she had picked out for their little venture in futility. The deep green material of the cloak he had given her before they left whispered and flapped in the stillness of the deepening night air.

He had stopped her just before Angel had opened the door and moved into the dusky evening. "Got somethin’ for you, pet."

"Spike, I’m not going into hiding." Willow had pulled on her heavy coat in anticipation of the chilly air.

"Just take off that clapped out piece of trash coat and get your cute little arse over here and open your prezzie." Spike had held the box, nearly large enough to hold Dawn, out to a questioning Willow. "I’m not standin’ here all night, Red."

Willow shook her head and removed her coat as she moved to take the box. "Sorry."

"We really don’t have time for this." Buffy leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed, as she watched the scene between her friend and the vampire.

"Shut yer gob, Slayer." Spike growled, not taking his eyes off the redhead as she tore into the paper the saleslady had used to wrap the box. He hadn’t thought it such a good idea when the woman suggested the paper, but had found himself thanking her silently as he watched Willow. The longer it took for the witch to unwrap the box, the longer it would take for her to go out looking for what could very well be her death.

"Oh, wow." Willow’s voice had come out as a gasp and the lid of the box made a flimsy ‘thwap’ as it fell to the floor.

"Won’t do you justice, luv, but I thought it was pretty." Spike had given that one- shouldered shrug again.

Willow had dropped the box and ran her hands over the long cloak. "It’s beautiful, Spike. When did you have time to buy it?"

"That first night when we went to the shops in the hotel." Spike slowly inched closer to her as he spoke, sweeping a red curl to the side of her face to curl just under her chin.

"But we were together and I never saw you buy anything." Willow’s voice had dropped steadily lower until she was fairly whispering.

"You were being fawned over, luv." Spike drew the hood over her hair and clasped the silver hook-and-eye at her throat.

"It really is beautiful, Spike."

"Beautiful enough to forget this idiocy and make a run for it until the watcher figures out how to kill this blighter?"

"Spike," Willow’s smile hadn’t so much faded as been eradicated. The gleam of happiness in her eyes had been snuffed out by the harsh bluster of her anger. "I refuse to leave town when my not being here could very well mean the death of an innocent or someone I love!"

"But staying could very well mean your own death, luv!"

"That’s just a risk I’m willing to take."

Willow had stomped out of the house, though -- Spike was pleased to note -- she had not removed the cloak.

"Maybe I don’t want to take that risk, luv." Spike had muttered to the redhead’s back as he had checked the lock on the door and followed the others toward the park.

"The plan," Willow’s voice still carried the bite of anger as it wrenched Spike from his memories, "Is for me to just figure out his weakness before we retreat and regroup."

"So," Xander had moved to walk on the other side of the redhead with Anya hefting a ball bat and trailing a little behind. "We keep ol’ Gonzo and his vampire man-bitches busy while Willow gets with the mojo and figures out how to take him apart."

A growl sounded from the front of the group a heartbeat before Spike’s eyes flashed to amber and his own growl spilled from his throat. Buffy was suddenly at Willow’s back, turned to face their rear. Anya was scanning the sidelines with an ax-wielding Xander. Spike made certain to keep his Red on his left as he prepared to take on the as yet unseen demons he felt approaching from his side. Through the thick haze of his anger, he could faintly hear Angel telling the humans to get ready while Giles reminded Willow not to try and take on the demon, just to find an opening they could later exploit.

Out of the corner of his eye, Spike saw Willow slowly turning, eyes wide, as she tried to catch sight of her target so she could cut the ensuing battle as short as possible. If this thing could rip a hole in the roof and side of the Magic Box, Spike doubted it would be difficult to spot. Looking at the ashen face of his beloved, however, he decided to keep that line of reasoning to himself.

"I will rise; I will go back to the white and silver shore." Willow fingered the silver star on its long chain around her neck as she spoke something that reminded Spike of an old prayer. "I will have courage, as the sun does rising and setting. At birth and death, the gift of life is precious, Soul-life streaming down the strand. I will to as the sea in its turning. I will rise, I will go back, I will rise."

"What was that, pet?"

"Just asking for a little courage."

"Willow, luv," Spike trailed the back of his hand down her arm, taking great satisfaction in the goose bumps that followed in its wake. "You’ve been alive on the hellmouth for many years, the last few of which were spent fighting alongside the slayer. I, for one, think you’ve got stones to spare."

Willow stood, head tilted to the side, before fixing confused eyes on the blonde vampire. "Is that a compliment, or should I go see a doctor?"

Spike leered playfully. "I could be your doctor, luv."

"See?!" Willow’s shout drew everyone’s attention. "There you go again!"

"‘Go again’, what?" Spike towered over the redheaded witch, and he could see the exact moment when she started to back up but thought better of it and regained her position. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the witch. He had only been flirting to have a little fun and maybe take her mind off things for a bit.

"You spend so much time trying to be the badass master vampire that you don’t even realize that I *like* the bits of the poetic gentleman that peek through every so often!" Willow advanced until the tip of her index finger met with Spike’s firm chest. He fought back a groan-- both at her nearness and her aggression. "*You*, mister, have to figure out how to let them both have some face time."

"And what a lovely face it is." A strange, brunette vampire who wore boots with higher, skinnier heels than some of Buffy’s melted out of the shadows, resting her left hand on her hip. "Won’t you just come and fight on our side? The Master could restore you to your full glory, and you could have your pick of women- me included-one of every day of the year if you so wished."

"That’s okay, ducks," Spike eyed Willow as he continued. "I like mine with a little more class. The warmth and heartbeat aren’t bad either."

Spike moved to shield his witch from the predatory gaze of the female vampire, catching a slightly stale scent on the air as he moved. "Besides, I like my women to bathe on a regular basis and *not* screw any vamp within reach."

"I’m just doing my part to keep the troops happy." The brunette flicked a stray curl behind her shoulder and rolled her hips to rest her other hand on the opposite hip in a sort of bawdy dance move. "Wouldn’t want a few hundred horny vampires let loose on a town this size, now would we? Not when many of them think anything over twelve to be too old."

Spike felt Willow tense beside him and knew from the crackle in the air that she was very *not* happy with that little bit of information and heard Buffy’s ‘ewww’. Before Spike could reply to the sick insinuation, a slim spike of wood flew from somewhere behind him, sunk into the brunette’s chest, and threw her back into a tree. She didn’t even have time to scream and grasp at her chest before she burst into a million particles of dust.

"Whore." Xander’s voice caught Spike by surprise, and he noticed that everyone but Willow and Anya mirrored his emotions.

"Xan?" Willow had stopped her search and wrapped her arms around her oldest friend. "They aren’t your father. You don’t have to be afraid anymore."

"Besides," Anya wrapped her arms around the dark-haired youth from the other side, "you kicked that bastard’s ass when you were fifteen."

Xander nodded and hugged both girls to him before reloading the crossbow he’d yanked from Giles’ hands in his anger. "Sorry, ‘bout that, G-man."

"Quite alright," the older man’s eyes held questions as he motioned to the weapon. "Go ahead and keep it. Your aim’s improved."

"Let’s hope it’s *really* improved." Angel’s voice floated from the lead of the group. "Looks like short, dark, and dusty’s friends decided to join the party."

Xander fit the single bolt in the notch and checked that the rapid loader was ready and waiting. Anya hefted her bat and planted her feet the way Spike had pointed out. Everyone else made themselves as battle ready as they could while keeping their sights on the slowly building army of vampires melting out of the surrounding trees and bracken.

There was a sudden hush over the crowd as a large gray hand wrapped around a tree thicker than Spike was round, snapping it as if it were nothing and throwing it over a massive stone shoulder. The tree bounced off the trees still standing behind the creature, bending their trunks and breaking their limbs as it shattered, as if made of glass. Gonulundo towered over his cronies, nearly brushing the top of the tallest of the remaining trees. His chiseled and time worn arms reminded Spike of the bare rock walls of the cliffs of Ireland. The legs that pushed their way through the bushes clinked and grated at the knees and thighs as he moved, sending little rockslides tumbling to the ground.

Slivers of rock and small pebbles also trickled from his shoulders as he raised his arms over his head in a stretch and roared. Great wings protruded from his impossibly wide back and extended two feet above his nubby-horned head to end in pointed claws of their own. Spike was reminded of bat wings, but he doubted they would fly. Being constructed of the same pale stone as the rest of his body had to put too much weight on them for anything more than the scary effect.

"Do not attempt to run." The monster’s voice was a rockslide as he moved through his troops.

"Weren’t plannin’ on it, ugly boy." Buffy hefted her sword and took out two minions who had been stupid enough to get within striking distance.

Willow had fallen silent when Gonulundo came into view, and Spike could see the lines on her forehead that spoke of concentration. She was totally focused on her quarry, and Spike wanted to make *damn* sure nothing happened to his witch while she did her job. Taking up his swords- one in each hand- he tested their weight as he flexed and released his shoulders in an attempt to ease their tension.

A blue light glimmered before surrounding the demon, deeper lines of color swirled about him as Willow searched for his weak point. Gonulundo’s eyes widened and he growled in that gravel-filled voice, alerting Spike and the others protecting Willow that he realized what was happening.

"Kill them!" Gonulundo’s voice snapped his troops to attention though they hesitated. "Don’t spare the Red Witch. I want her head on a pike by midnight!"

At this, a growl sounded from both sides as the surrounding army rushed Willow and her protectors. Angel’s demon had long replaced the human facade, and his fangs tore one vampire’s jugular out as he ran another through with the thick blade in his right hand. Xander was unloading stake after stake into the hoard with unerring accuracy. Anya crunched another on the side of the head with her bat and continued to batter the hapless female vampire until she fell to dust with a whimper.

Spike kept close to Willow, using the skills he’d learned in China to dispatch demon after demon with both thin swords. He could hear Willow mumbling behind him as the blue lights swirled about the massive form of the stone demon. There was a slight gasp from the redhead before the demon howled in rage and pain, turning his back to them and crashing back through the trees. The vampires quickly backed off and retreated through the bracken after their leader.

"Found it." Willow sounded like she’d just gotten away with drinking a double espresso, and Spike could feel the energy humming off her as she bounced from person to person, inspecting them for injuries that she healed with a pass of her hand. "There’s a pretty big spot in the lower abdomen’s left side that’s covered with a thin layer of shale. Get through that, and he’s gone."

"So I just have to hit that spot?" Buffy’s eyebrows drew together. "Don’t I have to hit his heart or brain or something *inside* that spot?"

"Don’t know," Willow was still bouncing as she moved healing hands over Fred’s arm and closed the cuts that had been placed there by some demon’s claws. "I was doing sort of a sonar or ping-pong thing, pushing tiny particles of energy at him and seeing how they felt when they came back.

"I kept getting super-charged ones from that spot, so I focused more on it. It took *no time* to figure out that the rock in that place was far more weak than anywhere else. When I tested a decent-sized bit of power, it came back ten-fold and he ran."

"That why you’re acting like the time me, you, and Jesse hit every coffee shop in town for a double espresso?" Xander’s eyes held laughter at the memory, and Spike smiled to himself as Willow’s eyes filled with the same mirth.

She stopped her bouncing and faced her oldest friend. "That was a good night."

"Yeah," Xander’s brown eyes became cloudy. "That was the Friday BB."

"BB?" Giles’ voice was soft, and Spike noticed for the first time that the whole group had gone silent.

"Before Buffy," Willow’s voice was watery and she wiped angrily at her eyes.

"What did ya’ll do the next weekend?" Fred leaned against Wesley as she spoke.

"Staked Jesse." Xander’s voice had hardened and Willow wrapped him in a tight hug.

This was news to Spike, and he stepped closer to the embracing pair. "You had to stake your best friend? That must have been hard."

Xander gave a one-shouldered shrug and pushed at his eyes with the back of his hand. "It was, but nobody hurts my Wills... Nobody."

The younger man focused eyes on Spike that the vampire nearly didn’t recognize. Gone was the goofy ‘who, me?’ humor and the obtuseness with which he seemed to move through life. In his place, Spike saw a man. Someone who would fight and die for the very few he held dear.

And, for just a moment, Spike respected the Zeppo.

Willow, who had turned to hug Buffy as the two of them held their silent conversation, turned to face Spike with a small smile on her lips. The smile turned into a scream as her eyes widened in fear.

Her scream of his name reached his ears accompanied by his sire’s roar just as a red-hot pain bisected his chest and William the Bloody discovered what it felt like to fly into a million tiny pieces.